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Mighty Penguins Celebrate 25th Anniversary at Toyota USA Hockey Sled National Championships

By Tom Robinson, 05/01/24, 11:30AM MDT


The Pittsburgh-based program brought four different teams to the tournament.

WEST CHESTER, Pa. – The Mighty Penguins found a special way to celebrate their 25th season.

The program based out of the UPMC-Lemieux Sports Complex – the Cranberry, Pennsylvania, training home of the Pittsburgh Penguins – were the only organization to send four teams to the 2024 Toyota USA Hockey Sled National Championships April 18-21 at Ice Line Arena.

Founded in 1998 when the Shriners Children’s Hospital of Erie brought sled hockey to Pittsburgh, the Mighty Penguins are on the rebound and going strong after losing a season-plus because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We just celebrated our 25th anniversary,” said Joe McCormick, treasurer of the club’s board of directors and head coach of its Adult Black Team. “We’re at about 60 players. Before the pandemic, we were getting close to 75.

“People decided to take a break.”

The Mighty Penguins brought three adult teams and one of their two youth programs across the state to the Philadelphia suburbs for the tournament.

The club has a second novice team for younger, less-experienced players. 

The program’s roots are in a youth program that led to the creation of adult teams and has a direct connection to the senior team, the club’s strongest, which reached the Adult Tier 1 title game before losing to the Northeast Passage Wildcats this year. 

Dan McCoy, who won a gold medal with the U.S. National Sled Hockey Teamat the 2014 Paralympic Winter Games, was the senior team’s third-leading scorer at nationals.

Mark McCoy, Dan’s father, is the board president and an assistant coach on the senior team.

“It was started by the Shriners working with Dan McCoy and a few others that are still playing today,” McCormick said. “They just wanted to get a team sport. Dan’s parents, Mark and Angie, just wanted to get Danny a chance to play. He has spina bifida.

“Here we are 25 years later. The McCoys and Ray Harding, who is the head coach of the seniors, have been part of the organization since day one. You can see what we are today.”

In 2024, the Toyota USA Hockey Sled National Championships expanded, with titles awarded in six adult and three youth divisions — but the Mighty Penguins have been prominent in the other national events that came before it.

McCormick said the success of the U.S. National Sled Hockey Team has helped make Dan McCoy well-known in the region and has assisted in bringing attention to the program.

In November, the Penguins senior team won its third straight top-level title at the NHL Sled Classic, and McCormick’s Adult Black Team reached a championship game for the second straight year.

Just as the McCoys got involved, and stay involved, to help their son and others in similar situations, more have followed.

Five of eight board members, including McCormick, who joined on eight years ago, are parents of players.

Leigh Anne Kustra, the head coach of the youth team that competed in West Chester, got started eight years ago, when she signed up her then-6-year-old son, Nathan. She is in her third year as a coach.

“Just as parents, we do what we have to do, and we do what we want to do to make sure our kids can play,” she said. “USA Hockey is great with the support that they provide for coaches, the annual certification training and you do anything a coach would do, watch as many videos as you can and attend as many summer training seminars as you can. That’s true both for players and for coaches.”

The Mighty Penguins youth team left West Chester on a high note. After two straight losses, they disrupted the title race by pulling off a 3-2 shootout victory over the WSF New York Sled Rangers, who had started the event with consecutive shutout victories.

“The team that we played had four adult players on it — youths that play on the adult level, too,” Kustra said. “My average age is 14. I had a 10-year-old, Joe Modugno, out there who was just unstoppable on defense.”

Kristofer Robinson scored the winning shootout goal.

With limited sled hockey teams, the Mighty Penguins are used to traveling two hours in-state to Johnstown or to Columbus, Ohio, for games.

“Most of them don’t get a lot of chances to compete,” McCormick said of the Adult Gold Team. “Some of the players are there primarily for therapeutic reasons because of disability, but they like to compete.”

For 25 seasons, the Mighty Penguins have been providing a way to find that competition.

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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